Editor’s note: This column is being reprinted from Sept. 3, 2008. Jack had an interesting relationship with computers and it was always amusing when he offered his advice on how to fix whatever happened to be the problem of the day. But he knew to steer clear of rich foreign benefactors.
Maybe computers should be designed to have a flush handle. There’s a trash can, but that’s not doing the trick.
Sometime over the three-day weekend, I noticed that our e-mail software on the home computer was performing slowly.
Now, keep in mind that this is a five-year-old computer, which in the computer equivalent of dog years ranks it right up there with Methuselah.
It’s been a great piece of equipment, and we have no plans to replace it.
(Note to computer owners: Never write a column in which you mention plans to replace the current model. Trust me. The machine knows. And the machine is not happy. Think HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)
But when I looked at the e-mail, I noticed something.
We had the equivalent of several dumpster loads of mail cluttering up our computer, some of it dating back to 2003.
In fact, we had nearly 10,000 pieces of e-mail in our in-box. We’d read them all, but for reasons best left to behavioral scientists we had kept most of them.
I want to interject here that this is not a huge problem for us in the non-cyberspace world, or what used to be known as reality.
While my desk can get a little messy and there’s a stack of Wall Street Journals on the old couch in my office, I pretty much keep track of things. And we’re great ones at home for purging out recyclables like catalogs and magazines on an efficient basis.
But cyberspace? Well, that’s like having an infinite closet for Fibber McGee, to mix a couple of cross-generational references. Who cared if it cluttered up?
Until last weekend, when we approached the 10,000 mark. Maybe that’s a red line for sloppy computer users.
At any rate, the concrete-boots speed of the computer got me looking at what the heck was in our in-box.
The answer: Not much that you’d want to hang onto.
I started deleting things from the bottom of the file, the oldest in the computer.
Then I quickly learned I could clean house more efficiently by grouping things together.
You’d be surprised how many useless e-mails you can flush if you look for those with “auto” at the start or those that refer to failed mail deliveries or those that involve e-mailed newsletters.
Part of the process was a trip back through time. I’d come across an e-mail from 2003 or 2004 from someone I’d never heard of, check it out, realize it was junk, and hit the delete key.
At the same time, I was able to make sure I’d saved meaningful family or business messages.
All in all, it was an especially satisfying night of purging Internet junk.
Did I do enough?
By the latest count, we still have something like 7,700-plus e-mails in our in-box and another 5,800-plus in our sent-mail box.
That’s way too many, but I felt good about the electronic housekeeping just the same.
Then, Monday afternoon, the computer beeped at me.
It was signaling incoming mail, and I thought it might be something important.
Turns out, Mr. Patrick Chan of Hang Sen Bank in Hong Kong has a proposal for me.
It seems an Iraqi client of his has plunked $12.1 million in the bank and will give me half if I agree to be somebody’s next of kin.
Sounds like a heck of deal. Maybe I shouldn’t have cleaned up the e-mail after all.